Getting to Know New Orleans Bartender Joe Witkowski

When quarantine and lockdowns swept the nation, Brown and Balanced and founder Josh Davis hosted a series of Happy Hours over on Instagram featuring bartenders, servers, and cocktail enthusiasts from all over the U.S. to share their stories and backgrounds. After taking time to rest and restore, Brown and Balanced is coming back to continue conversations one Friday each month, featuring a special program to highlight different perspectives from the Black Hospitality Community talking issues that matter.

There will also be a hand-selected bartender featured each week that should be on your radar, starting with Joe Witkowski from New Orleans. A former barista, incredible bartender, member of the LGBTQIA+ community and shining light in our world, Witkowski will share about his life, experiences and imparting style into all aspects of life.

The episode featuring Witkowski will air on September 11th on the Portland Cocktail Week Facebook page. Not only will Witkowski be sharing about his life and experiences, but will also be creating a cocktail crafted with Espolòn Blanco tequila.

You can keep up with all of Campari America’s industry-focused events and education by following @CampariCommunity on IG or signing up for their email list!

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Who's Your Step-Mom™️ #queerpoc #patrón

A post shared by Joe Witkowski (@joetheigay) on

 

Name, City/State, most recent place of employment.

Joe Witkowski, New Orleans, Louisiana, Bakery Bar

What are your pronouns?

He/Him

What is the best part of being a Bartender to you?

Getting to watch someone light up when you make something delicious.

If you weren’t a Bartender, what would you be doing?

I would have loved to be a flight attendant. Getting to see new places and meet new people as your job sounds like my kind of career.

How did you get started in the industry?

I started as a barback/door guy in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I eventually moved to New Orleans and worked as a host and then was asked by a friend if I ever thought about being a craft bartender and look at me now.

Being a Black/Brown Bartender, what are some of the issues you face?

The hardest is for me when the guests question my skills just because of my skin.

What do you feel the leaders can do better, to provide equal opportunities and representation for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the industry?

Make space, provide training, stop the divide of BIPOC being in back of house positions and bring us to the front of house.

If you could describe yourself as a cocktail, what would it be and why?

I am a tequila soda. Clean, crisp, with a hint of a bite. I try to be really uncomplicated in life.

With the social climate in the world today, I feel like our industry is a microcosm of society. How can you see Black/Brown Bartenders using their platforms to enact change in what we see across the bartending community?

When most people think of a craft cocktail bartender they imagine a white guy with facial hair and tattoos.The biggest thing for me is being visible. There is great power when BIPOC guests arrive and see someone who looks like them and they get to relax.

I want everyone to feel welcome, but I push a bit harder when I get to work with people that normally might not be accessing these spaces.

If you could pick a dream team.. A starting 5 of Black/Brown Bartenders from your city to open a new place, who would they be and why?

Chris Hannah, because he is just such a font of knowledge and charm. J’Nai Williams because she is the most organized and stylish person I have ever met. Cheyenne Serene because she pushes me to be better as a bartender and is a constant inspiration. Scott Israel because he is Black nerd like me and has the best laugh to witness. Last but not least Ashtin Berry. Ashtin came in on one my earliest shifts as a bartender and boosted me up. I was so unsure and she made me feel like a star. Imagine that kind of energy directed to an entire staff and then the guests.

If you could have drinks with anyone dead, alive or fictional, who would it be and what would you both be drinking?

It would be my identical twin. Quarantine canceled his trip for Easter and at the end of the day, he just gets me without having to explain any part of myself.  We would most likely be drinking whatever cocktail I have on a menu because I love it when I get to share my creations and get his approval.

Being a Black/Brown Bartender, and also being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, what are some challenges that you have faced in the industry, and how have you overcome them?

Sometimes I have been forced to represent only parts of my experience. I haven’t always been able to be a queer person of color. It is really important that I get to be my whole self and celebrate that. I am flamboyant and love to bring that energy to any projects I am involved in.

 

A New Day cocktail

Cocktail by Joe Witkowski; image by Nick Hogan

  • 2 oz Espolòn Blanco tequila
  • .5 oz Grenadine
  • 3 dashes of Fee Brothers Lemon Bitters
  • Splash of Soda
  • Half a sphere of frozen orange juice.

Build in a rocks glass rimmed with Tajin. Place the half sphere of orange juice flat side down. Pour the Espolon Blanco over the sphere (Witkowski filled the sphere ice mold halfway with orange juice and froze overnight), followed with the bitters and then the float of grenadine. Splash some soda water and give a stir. You can continue to top up the drink until the ice melts.

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